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Changes in Patch Features May Exacerbate or Compensate for the Effect of Habitat Loss on Forest Bird Populations

Public Library of Science
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021596
  • Research Article
  • Biology
  • Ecology
  • Community Ecology
  • Species Interactions
  • Ecological Environments
  • Terrestrial Environments
  • Ecosystems
  • Ecosystem Functioning
  • Biodiversity
  • Conservation Science
  • Ecological Metrics
  • Global Change Ecology
  • Spatial And Landscape Ecology
  • Terrestrial Ecology
  • Biology
  • Ecology


One and a half centuries after Darwin visited Chiloe Island, what he described as “…an island covered by one great forest…” has lost two-thirds of its forested areas. At this biodiversity hotspot, forest surface is becoming increasingly fragmented due to unregulated logging, clearing for pastures and replacement by exotic tree plantations. Decrease in patch size, increased isolation and “edge effects” can influence the persistence of forest species in remnant fragments. We assessed how these variables affect local density for six forest birds, chosen to include the most important seed dispersers (four species) and bird pollinators (two species, one of which acts also as seed disperser), plus the most common insectivore (Aphrastura spinicauda). Based on cue-count point surveys (8 points per fragment), we estimated bird densities for each species in 22 forest fragments of varying size, shape, isolation and internal-habitat structure (e.g. tree size and epiphyte cover). Bird densities varied with fragment connectivity (three species) and shape (three species), but none of the species was significantly affected by patch size. Satellite image analyses revealed that, from 1985 to 2008, forested area decreased by 8.8% and the remaining forest fragments became 16% smaller, 58–73% more isolated and 11–50% more regular. During that period, bird density estimates for the northern part of Chiloé (covering an area of 1214.75 km2) decreased for one species (elaenia), increased for another two (chucao and hummingbird) and did not vary for three (rayadito, thrust and blackbird). For the first three species, changes in patch features respectively exacerbated, balanced and overcame the effects of forest loss on bird population size (landscape-level abundance). Hence, changes in patch features can modulate the effect of habitat fragmentation on forest birds, suggesting that spatial planning (guided by spatially-explicit models) can be an effective tool to facilitate their conservation.

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